AUSTIN – The Supreme Court of Texas has denied an appeal filed by the city of Dallas in connection with the city of Corsicana, Navarro County and Navarro College’s (collectively, Navarro) request to investigate a potential tortious interference claim against Dallas, which is likely to exceed the $200,000 claim threshold that limits the County Court at Law of Navarro County’s jurisdiction.
Although it denied Dallas’s appeal, the high court did grant Dallas’ request to conditionally vacate the trial court order on the matter and sent the case back to the trial court with instructions to determine its jurisdiction over the potential claim Navarro seeks to investigate.
According to the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling, Navarro filed a Rule 202 petition in the County Court at Law of Navarro County to investigate the potential claim against the city of Dallas. The county court denied Dallas’ immunity-based plea related to the jurisdiction, granted Navarro’s Rule 202 petition and authorized the requested depositions.
In an opinion disposing of Dallas’s appeal and a related petition for relief, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Dallas’s jurisdictional plea and granted the city’s request to narrow the scope of the trial court’s Rule 202 order.
“Although Dallas insists it is entitled to governmental immunity, neither party argues the county court otherwise lacks jurisdiction over Navarro’s potential tortious interference claim,” the Supreme Court of Texas said in its Sept. 30 opinion. “Nevertheless, a court is duty-bound to determine its jurisdiction regardless of whether the parties have questioned it.”
The jurisdictional issue revolves largely around the potential amount of the claim Navarro wants to investigate.
Specifically, the Supreme Court said it seems likely that the amount of the potential tortious interference claim exceeds the county court’s $200,000 jurisdictional maximum. However, the court said Navarro did not specify the damages it would seek in an expected lawsuit.
In its amended petition, Navarro alleged Dallas’ interference caused the county to lose about 200 jobs. The Navarro parties said “those jobs are no longer in Navarro County, where Navarro County taxing authorities and businesses can benefit from those jobs actively participating in the local economy.”
As a result, Navarro alleged the loss of property and inventory tax revenue has “caused significant injury” to the Navarro entities.
The Texas Supreme Court said the county court even asked the Navarro parties whether their claim would fall under its jurisdiction. Navarro’s counsel responded that the dispute would not fall under the county court’s jurisdiction if the actual lawsuit was being litigated at that time but that counsel believed the county court did have jurisdiction to decide the discovery issue.
“Despite this admission, we cannot say with certainty that the amount in controversy of Navarro’s potential claim exceeds $200,000,” the high court said in its opinion.
If the county court determines it does not have jurisdiction over Navarro’s potential claim or anticipated lawsuit, the Supreme Court said that means it also does not have jurisdiction over a Rule 202 proceeding seeking to investigate the claim.